Writing is a solitary, isolating process, but the writer herself cannot grow in an environment of marginalization and doubt. Race permeates the water of American life, but Kimblio allows black writers to float above it—if only for one week a year—and bask in the light of a rigorous, loving, literary community. Kimbilio is a safe place for African American writers to ask hard questions of their art and of the cannon itself. It is a safe place to experiment and evolve, engage and argue, explore and discover. Kimbilio is as necessary as fire.
Desiree Cooper ’13
Kimbilio means “safe refuge” and a safe refuge is necessary if one wants to produce great change, if one wants to shake the foundations. Safe refuges are the places where plans are made, revolutions are begun and changes occur. In the safe refuge, one need not look over one’s shoulder every other minute for fear or discovery or surveillance. In the safe refuge, one need not sleep with one eye open. Because one is safe, one can devote one’s entire being and energy and creativity to the purpose at hand. One can move forward without looking back. Because one is in a community, one does not have to shoulder the burden alone. You can look beyond yourself and “going for yours.” Safe refuges allow you to widen your focus, to expand your circle to include the goals and dreams of a community and not just an individual. Safe refuges demonstrate that mantra “You don’t have to blow out someone else’s candle to make your own light shine brighter.” Kimbilio makes us candle-watchers. If someone’s candle flickers or threatens to go out, there will always be someone nearby to relight it.
Amina Gautier ’13
Kimbilio is a place where I am able to reconnect with a workshop that values diverse experiences and diverse ways to tell stories. I get to commune with a group of writers that are excited about the work they are doing and committed to making their work the best it can be.
Cole Lavalais ’13, ’14
Attending the Kimbilio retreat was a transformational experience. I came to appreciate that I am not doing my work or struggling in isolation. I realized there is an audience for my work, an audience that will not only encounter it with generosity but is really hungry to read it. I feel the same. It confirmed—I’ve been hollering this for a long time—that there is not one story for black writers to explore. These stories and voices need to be heard so that we can step into a deeper experience of our humanity and our possibilities as artists and as a culture. Usually I am so anxious when I go to writing conferences, but I felt as though I was coming home in the deepest, most soulful way I’ve ever experienced. I had not one nervous cell in my body. I felt embraced and celebrated, something I needed and am sure others did too.
Adrienne Perry ’13, ’14
Being a writer is hard. It can be lonely, thankless and alienating. Being a black writer is harder. There is pressure to be at once representative and unique, to both meet publisher demands and test the boundaries of what black writing can be. In the face of this, Kimbilio is a sanctuary, a boot camp, a rebellion, and group therapy. Kimbilio managed, in one week, to both fracture and solidify my identity as a black writer. I suspect that it is that process—repeated fractures, repeated solidifications—that will push me toward whatever creative successes may come.
Miranda McCleod ’13, ’14
When the accepted fellows list was advertised, I was excited to see names of writers I know and whose work I admire. I just knew it would be a powerhouse group, and it was. Besides connecting with old acquaintances, Kimbilio gave me an instant extended family of black fiction writers, with the added benefit of hobnobbing with such accomplished writers as our faculty over good food. But by far, the most unexpected and magical thing was that for the first time in forever, I felt free being ME, with my quirks and dark humor accepted and embraced. I’ve experienced something similar at other residencies and retreats, which I once described as “places where the crazies come to feel normal.” At Kimbilio there was virtually no waiting period before I felt comfortable. I didn’t have to worry how anyone would react because I’m black or because I slipped into speaking Ebonics or because I’m writing about black people. There weren’t those awkward hyper-PC comments or inappropriate “jokes.” All in all, I was sad to return to the real world but relieved to know I can come back to next year.
Kim Foote ’13
Years ago, I thought it would be such an incredible thing if African American writers could get together and talk about our writing, our struggles, who we are as writers and as writers of color, and how we fit (or not) into the larger conversation about American literature at the beginning of the 21st century. In the past few years I’ve noticed a marginalization of African American literature, to the point where lists of great American writers are created, and not only are African American writers not on those lists, but, more importantly, no one even notices or cares that they are omitted. So when I realized that Kimbilio would actually become a reality, it was like a dream come true. I feel the only way we can become a presence, as writers of color again (as we did in the 20s, the 60s, and early 90s) is to promote our own cause. If we assemble, and speak as a group, our voices will be heard. Kimbilio is the first step toward achieving that. What happened in New Mexico in 2013 was not only extraordinary, but historic, and I am so grateful for the experience in being able to be around, talk to, laugh with, and share with writers who look like me, and whose lives reflect my own. Kimbilio is not only needed, it’s essential. We have to make sure it continues, whatever it takes.
Rosalyn Story ’13
Seeing Dolen and ZZ and David at the front of the room, talking about writing and literature in a way that is deep, and intelligent, and passionate, and even urgent, was a transformative experience. I see published and respected authors talking about writing all the time, but to see someone who looks like me…I can envision myself being them, being where they are, knowing what they know. And that’s really significant. I didn’t realize I was missing that until I suddenly had it.
I think Kimbilio has to exist. We must do for ourselves what the established literary world wont do for us. We must demand to be reckoned with. We must demand the best from each other. We have to refuse to be ignored. And we must celebrate ourselves.
Nicole Kelly ’13